Convergence culture in action – helping us to teach, to learn and (for some) to earn

Electric Guitars for sale by Malcolm Espinosa http://www.flickr.com/photos/8392120@N03/506089920/ (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Electric Guitars for sale by Malcolm Espinosa (Flickr Image) CC BY-NC 2.0

Jenkins (2006) identified what he termed “convergence culture” – referring to a relationship between media convergence, participatory culture and collective intelligence. In this post I will be looking at a number of instances variously identifying, applying and being inspired by these ideas. The purpose of this post therefore is to bring together a few divergent examples of how this “convergence culture” is operating and in some cases can bring fresh inspiration to teachers and students alike.

A movie is not enough anymore

In a recent piece on “The Conversation” Isaacs (2013)discusses the rise of “convergence entertainment” where creative outputs take on the features of other platforms to create a richer user experience. He gives an example of the cinematic qualities of the recently released Beyond Two Souls video game. Isaacs notes the evolution of gaming platforms to a much richer visual and  narrative media experience, incorporating high profile talent, potentially can take this to new levels. While he expresses some artistic concerns about gaming’s ability to deliver really transformative media experiences in the same way as cinema, what I found most interesting about the piece was the deliberate, high end marketing agenda that operates in making these decisions. This merging of media features could be seen as an extension of what Jenkins (2006) describes as bottom-up influences. While it is important to remember that business decisions are made based on what consumers are willing to pay for rather than what may be in their best interests, the demand by consumers to extend their interactions with characters and narratives beyond a single media platform certainly seems to be there. I hope though that this merging does not mean the end of traditional media experiences for those who prefer them.

Using students’ existing pastimes to deepen understanding of traditional music and texts

Tobias (2013) urges music teachers to look to how their students are engaging with music outside the classroom to inform and extend what occurs within lessons. This call is to music teachers to incorporate opportunities for students to reinterpret traditional works or create new ones based on how they already interact with music. In the case of reinterpreting traditional pieces Tobias (2013) makes the point that students would need to really think about and come to understandings of the old in order to create the new. What I found particularly interesting about this article was that it is enthusiastic about embracing new tools and ways of thinking while at the same time placing pedagogy at the centre of the process. The ideas explored of using music in ways to explain and reflect current thoughts of existing narratives, both musical and textual and incorporating the need to make these products available beyond the classroom really reflect the core notion of education. To take existing knowledge, to interrogate it for meaning and substance, to interpret, relate and apply that meaning to a broader or different context and be willing to express that view clearly for a wider audience are for me, the point of the whole exercise.

Pop culture for science learning and inspiration

Kukusawadia (2013) writes about how science-fiction can be used as a backdrop to science education. He gives examples of Tara Smith using zombies to explain viruses and others determining whether the physics really works for Batman to glide and land safely using his cape. He also notes that as science is really about the nature of life itself, more philosophical discussions can also occur. This type of thinking is incredibly useful for teachers in thinking about how to engage creatively with students. Science-fiction, as Kukusawadia (2013) notes often quickly becomes Science Fact in a short space of time. I cannot help but think this is most likely to occur when people put their science skills together with an “anything may be possible” mindset. Maybe the reason I carry a mobile and can videoconference with friends overseas is because someone clever thought about Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone or George Jetson being berated by his boss via a screen at his desk and decided to see if they could make it happen.

Isaacs, B., (2013). Two Souls, one body: the rise of convergence entertainment. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/two-souls-one-body-the-rise-of-convergence-entertainment-19207

Jenkins, H., (2006, June 19). Welcome to convergence culture [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://henryjenkins.org/2006/06/welcome_to_convergence_culture.html

Kukusawada, A., (2013, April 19).  Battlestar Pedagogica: Using Science Fiction to Teach Science [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.plos.org/scied/2013/04/29/battlestar-pedagogica-using-science-fiction-to-teach-science/

Tobias, E.S., (2013). Toward Convergence: Adapting music education to contemporary society and participatory culture. Music Educators Journal, 99(4), 29-36. doi: 10.1177/0027432113483318

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Week 13

Adventures with text and beyond: popular culture – the new literacy challenge for English teachers – by Melissa Page. (2012), English Journal, 102(2), 129-133.

PLEASE NOTE THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN WEEK 8 BUT ACQUIRED A NEW DATE WHEN EDITING THE CATEGORY

I have recently been trying to make the intellectual connection between popular culture engagement and school based learning. This is a bit of a challenge as not having a professional connection to the school system, my thoughts are those of a parent and as someone who sees the results of school education in commencing university students. One of the issues that has perplexed me is where does popular culture most comfortably  “sit” within the school curriculum. Melissa Page makes a case for incorporating popular culture experiences into the English curriculum. In addition to the motivational value in referencing a broad range of media texts, often including those students engage with outside the classroom by choice, Page contends students have the opportunity to make links between current popular cultural references and more traditional English class offerings of longer and more complex texts. This idea isn’t particularly new – even in my own long ago school days English teachers would show movie adaptations of studied works in an attempt to make them more accessible. The point I think Page makes well though is the plethora of popular culture links to more traditional texts makes this process a much richer one especially in finding relevance between traditional texts and the modern world. Page also points to the opportunity to critically examine popular cultural experiences giving students valuable skills as they grow into adulthood. This includes the process of questioning the real meaning behind the constant barrage of information that is today’s reality. As a librarian I can only applaud any initiative that makes information users more discerning in their choices. The way students engage with these texts also may be beneficial in providing opportunities to write, discuss and develop their views. I don’t object at all to students engaging with popular culture as appropriate in the context of the school curriculum. I do still have questions over “English” as the forum for this engagement. Page makes the point and I agree that school students need to build the skills to engage with traditional, sometimes long and complex texts. At the tertiary study level, in certain courses such as humanities and law, students need this skill. Perhaps my concern is that much is being asked of the English curriculum. For many students, high school may be the only occasion in their lives where critical thinking and the ability to analyse the value of some of the great literary works that have shaped our current society are formally taught. I would not like to see that opportunity lost or diluted. Maybe the answer is for a greater proportion of school time to be spent in English classes given their expanded responsibility.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 8

The world in their pockets – challenges of connecting with the connected generation

Teaching in the Library by Enokson (Flickr Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vblibrary/8465390209/) CC BY-NC -SA 2.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en

Teaching in the Library by Enokson (Flickr Image, CC BY-NC -SA 2.0)

Seven years ago my family of two working adults and two primary school aged daughters possessed one television, one desktop PC with a dial up internet connection, and two mobile phones able to make and receive phone calls and text messages. This same household, with the daughters now 17 and 19 years of age, presently accommodates three televisions, two desktop computers, three laptops, four smartphones, three tablets, several ipods and two eBook readers. All except the televisions are internet connected via wireless broadband. The least used of these necessary adjuncts to modern life by a long way are the televisions and desktop computers. Discussions with friends in similar households indicates this is not in any way remarkable.

In a very short amount of time we have become a society where we are always connected to the world via a variety of portable devices. This connection crosses boundaries between home, social spaces, entertainment activities, learning environments and workplaces. For my generation, this change has occurred so quickly that we are still trying to grapple with what it means in terms of how we function as a society and interact as a community. For young people, even older teens, this is simply the life they have grown into. They do not agonize over whether online socializing is better or worse than in person – they simply do what they see as most convenient or appropriate for the situation.

Family Life

This always connected state raises challenges for traditional family interaction. Where previous generations of teens had to “endure” family outings and visits, and some time was spent doing “nothing in particular” today’s teen is safe in the knowledge that they can spend the time on Facebook with their friends or watching YouTube videos all using their phones. While there is convenience in family members always being able to easily contact each other, spending time together without the intrusion of the wider world requires a high degree of parental determination.

School Life

The challenges for educators are perhaps more acute. Schools face the dilemma of preparing students for a life in the wider connected society, while also creating an environment conducive to focused learning of both skills and content in a physically and emotionally safe space.

This challenge of embracing the good that the internet has to offer in terms of content and connections while minimizing its distractive and at times destructive impact,  is explored by Leander (2013). Leander considers the views of teachers in a high school where policy dictates all students have a laptop. Hodas (Cited in Leander, 2013, p.59) noted that previous technological innovations including overhead projectors and photocopiers favoured the traditional teacher-centric model of classes in that they were primarily a means of delivering teacher chosen content. Leander (2013) noted some teachers expressed concerns about the laptop innovation including safety issues with online interaction – especially in the context of a girls school, pupils making inappropriate comments about the school online, distraction in the classroom away from discussions led by teachers, and the physical barrier between the teacher and students created by the laptops themselves. I can imagine these concerns would be familiar to anyone working in schools now. Younger teachers were seen to be more comfortable with these innovations. What Leander (2013) found was that some teachers were dealing with these concerns by limiting their use of the laptops to only where it fitted with the already defined curriculum or pedagogical practices. Designated internal online discussion venues were also created as a way of shutting out outside influences.  Leander (2013, p. 73) concludes by suggesting this approach of “avoiding” the technology will not work given that students already have wireless access to the wider aspects of the internet on their own devices.

Conclusions

I have mixed views about this. Part of what schools do is teach content and sometimes to do so requires the undivided attention of students. Discussions within a classroom may also lose much of their value if a significant number of the class is physically present but digitally elsewhere. Further, as someone who has spent many years training and recruiting university graduates in the workplace, I know at some point educators need to impart the skills of focusing and concentrating on sometimes pretty dry content. However I agree with Leander (2013) that it may be ineffectual to attempt to shut out the world too much given most students will be carrying personal devices that bypass any restrictions. I also believe that educators of young students need to some extent to “let go” of what has always been done in an effort to consider the possibilities of what might be done with new technologies. Perhaps some of that content may become less dry.

Reference

Leander, K., (2013). You won’t be needing your laptops today: wired bodies in the wireless classroom. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel (Eds.), A new literacies reader: educational perspectives (pp.57-75). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Leave a comment

Filed under Week 12

My Pinterest Page – What’s popular with young people!

Teenagers Online by Will Lion (http://www.flickr.com/photos/will-lion/3278887020/) Flickr image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

Teenagers Online by Will Lion  (Flickr image, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Please find my Pinterest page here.

This week I have made a foray into the previously unchartered (for me) territory of Pinterest with a view to discerning just what young people are enjoying at the moment.  My board represents the interests of young people I know well, my daughters and their friends so it reflects more the tastes of older teens (17-19) than younger children. Indeed I would consider some of the content to be quite unsuitable for younger children and teens. The process of putting together a board like this is interesting. By gathering lots of ideas from various sources, then searching for suitable images to reflect those ideas, there is a tendency to focus on the specific individual posts. At the end of the process my concern was how to distill any coherent thoughts from what initially appeared to be a random collection of ideas. Then I believe I began to understand the value of the Pinterest platform as seeing all the posts together I perceived patterns emerging.

Essentially the posts fall into categories: games, television shows, books and movies, and music, together with a number of delivery platforms and some more direct forms of self expression. Online games are represented, but recently one of my daughters has been playing the board game version of Dungeons and Dragons via Skype video links, so really finding new ways of playing an older game. Television shows were either old and had a retro appeal such as Star Trek, or were current and violent such as Breaking Bad. The books seem to be all about fantasy and movies were only of interest if they are based on a book that is already enjoyed. Even as older teens they still enjoy the books they have grown up with so Harry Potter continues to be popular. Preferred music is generally heavy metal although some new folk styles are also enjoyed. In terms of delivery platforms, Facebook and You Tube are ubiquitous with all of the teens using these platforms. Snapchat was new to me but the idea is quite appealing – an image to capture a moment in time which then disappears. There is of course a cat meme. The most interesting ideas I found were those about self expression – fan fiction to allow readers or viewers to express their own creativity by carrying on from where favourite stories end. Both of my daughters love steam punk style with the younger especially employing it very much in her own fashion choices.

I am not a teacher but I can certainly see the value of Pinterest as a means of bringing some order to a seemingly chaotic collection of ideas – especially in those fields where images can speak so much more evocatively that text.

2 Comments

Filed under Week 11

Game On! For this teen online entertainment is not just for fun – there’s a career to be pursued.

Student and Laptop by Enokson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/vblibrary/8465390145/) (Flickr image, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en

Student and Laptop by Enokson (Flickr image, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

All about Kate

I would like to introduce Kate (not her real name).  Kate is 17 years old and lives in suburban Brisbane with her parents and 19 year old sister. Kate spends her time trampolining – both training herself and coaching younger participants, playing her drum kit, watching TV, playing video games, , and reading A LOT of Manga. As a year 12 student at a local Catholic girls high school, Kate’s favourite subject is Japanese as this allows her to explore the culture that produces much of her favourite entertainment material, including anime, manga and video games. Each year Kate carefully puts together a new costume based on her favourite characters and goes to Supanova Pop Culture expo. One of her dreams is to go to Comic Con in the United States. Not content to play for fun, Kate plans to study game design after school finishes so she too can create amazing fantasy worlds and weave exciting stories through them.

I asked Kate about what she reads, the movies, games and music she enjoys and her use of online social networking spaces.

I have grouped the questions and added Kate’s thoughts at the end of each section.

Reading

What have you been reading recently?

What have you enjoyed or not and why?

What made you decide on what to read?

Do you discuss books/other reading material with friends?

Do you and your friends have similar tastes in reading material?

Do you think your reading tastes have changed much over the last few years?

Why do you think that is?

Kate reads some popular manga serials she has been following for a number of years although has been enjoying them less lately as the storylines appear to have become overly contrived. Her first interest came from anime shows on children’s television when she was a small child. She is now enjoying comics like Iron man and Deadpool as well as Webtoons .Kate enjoys Deadpool as it “breaks the fourth wall” by directly acknowledging the reader. Kate also identified that some comics have very strong social commentary. She finds out about comics and Webtoons from dedicated wikias – fan constructed sites that discuss new publications and offer critiques. Kate shares her tastes with some but not all of her friends and they discuss what they read frequently. Some of her friends read fan fiction which Kate is less interested in. The only conventional book reading Kate has done recently is for school and while she enjoys the complex narratives and characters she does most of her reading online. When she was younger Kate was frustrated by not being allowed to read books deemed by librarians as suitable only for older teenagers so is happy to have fewer restrictions now.

Movies and Television

How often do you go to the movies?

Do you normally go with family, friends or by yourself?

Do you see different movies depending who you are with?

Would you rather go to the movies or watch at home online or on a DVD?

What are your favourite TV shows?

Do you usually watch on a television screen or online?

Kate rarely goes to the movies and prefers to watch at home. She will sometimes go with friends for the social outing, family if there is a new release she is keen to see and her friends are not, or by herself if she really wants to see something nobody else is interested in. At the moment Kate is enjoying old movies more such as Star Trek so home is better.

Kate nominated Haven, Red vs Blue (web series), Arrow and Game of Thrones as current favourite TV shows. She likes supernatural elements and is not at all put off by violence.  She prefers viewing online so she can decide the timing and also revisit episodes.

Music

How would you describe your musical tastes?

Where do you find out about new music?

Do you think you have anything in common in your musical tastes with your parents, sister, friends?

When do you listen to music?

Kate likes lots of different kinds of music including some folk (Mumford & Sons) right through to Sauroxet which she describes as a kind of Norwegian Metal for children complete with dinosaur costumes. Most of her favourites are rock or heavy metal. Kate notes she grew up listening to old school rock music and nineties grunge constantly played by her parents and which she still likes. She shares some tastes with her sister and friends. She listens to music on her way home from school and as background when studying. She has currently been enjoying mashups on You Tube with a favourite being “Little Sickness” by Isosine. Unlike previous generations reliant on radio or television to hear about new music Kate often follows the suggestions offered by You Tube based on her previous choices.

Games and Social Networking

What are your favourite video games?

What so you like about them?

What social networking sites do you use?

Who do you interact with there?

What sorts of things do you discuss?

At the moment Kate is playing a lot of Saints Row 4 and Oblivion which are stand alone PC games, and Guild Wars 2 an online game where she is a member of a several guilds. She doesn’t associate with game contacts socially unless they are already friends, but does participate in online forums managed by the guilds which operate outside the game environment but she sees as an extension of game activities. Kate really enjoys the process of building worlds, creating diverse characters and games where there is a lot to do. She refers to “soul stealing” games where she becomes so immersed in the game she has no time left for a social life.

Kate has a Facebook presence but only uses it to check in with friends a few times a week. She leaves the chat function switched off and rarely has conversations there. She has no interest in Twitter or Pinterest type sites. She occasionally uses Tumblr but mainly to search for images, she doesn’t have her own site. Mainly her online interactions are on sites dedicated to her areas of interest, rather than general social networking.

Pop Culture Events

My final question was what is the appeal of dressing up and attending Pop culture events. Kate indicated she enjoyed being in an environment full of people with similar interests and being able to talk to the creators of the entertainment she most enjoys. Kate says dressing up is a way of showing respect and gratitude for the entertainment she enjoys and is also”just good fun”.

4 Comments

Filed under Week 10

Anime, Manga and Cosplay – Western youth looking to Japanese popular culture for entertainment and learning.

Mirai Suenaga in Twin Angel by Danny Choo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannychoo/5992601987/) (Flickr image, CC BY-NC 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

Mirai Suenaga in Twin Angel by Danny Choo (Flickr image, CC BY-NC 2.0

I have a confession to make. I am a “words”person. I have always learned best by reading traditional texts, taking notes and thinking about the implications then writing my thoughts. For recreation, losing myself in a large well written tome for a few days is bliss.

Some years ago I first became aware of anime programs which I mentally dismissed as comprising big eyes, brightly coloured spiky hair and stilted dialogue, but essentially harmless cartoons for children. I later encountered graphic novels and manga which I similarly dismissed as comic books – not necessarily harmful but certainly not something to be taken seriously as literature. How wrong I was!

I have since discovered that far from being entertaining to some but of no great artistic or literary significance, these products of Japanese popular culture have established a place of prime importance in the cultural lives of many young people around the world. In the process many of these afficianados develop language skills, understandings of alternative cultures, the meaning of images and the collaborative power of the world wide web. Some develop skills in drawing and others hone the art of story telling and they  also have fun (Fukunaga, 2006). On a technical level, it appears the relationship of text to images in manga is quite different to English and the images themselves and layout are structured in a complex way (Huang & Archer, 2012), indicating some sophisticated analysis is required of readers.

My interest in these art forms is very much one of being on the outside looking in – I do not “get” it in the sense of enjoying anime and manga myself. Nor it would appear do all young people share this interest. A straw poll of teenagers of my immediate acquaintance indicates two not interested and one totally absorbed.

It is the totality of the cultural experience that I find most interesting. It is not enough to simply watch anime and read manga. Fans play online games with a similar look and feel. They look for authenticity as evidenced by a preference for immediate fan based translations from the Japanese online rather than waiting for an official English translation (Huang & Archer,2012). Many fans of anime and manga take their enthusiasm further by attending conventions dressed as popular characters from their favourite series and engage in cosplay competitions. Fans take a lot of trouble over these costumes and fellow conference goers seem to appreciate it. A few years ago my then 14 year old daughter spent much of her school holidays in creating a costume for a local pop culture expo and was stopped several times by other attendees for photos with her “character”. This accepting environment can be very confidence building for the naturally shy and introverted. The “play” part of cosplay came in the form of participating as a chess piece on a giant board.

Fukunaga (2006) suggests teachers can use anime type sources to help students explore authentic aspects of Japanese culture and consider differences with our own culture. Teachers can use this material to start discussions promoting critical thinking. I suggest the same can be said for many other types of popular culture, but it seems for a segment of our young community, this genre certainly has appeal. Huang and Archer (2012) suggest that “texts” suitable for study should be interpreted widely given the complex and rapidly changing world in which we live. One point made by Fukunaga (2006) which I find interesting is his observation that students come to the study of Japanese as a language as a result of this cultural interest. Is this not what we are hoping for in encouraging students to engage with our own culture – that they will explore language as a way of enhancing their appreciation of a culture they already enjoy?

The internationalisation of this popular culture genre seems to me to be fuelled by access to online media. This has allowed a community of like minded young people to build around the world. While it is not for everyone, I have to say I think it is a refreshing alternative to mainstream entertainment offerings. Diversity is a wonderful thing.

References

Fukunaga, N., (2006). “Those anime students”: Foreign language literacy development through Japanese popular culture. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 50(3), 206-222.

Huang, C. & Archer, A., (2012).Uncovering the multimodal literacy practices in reading manga and the implications for pedagogy. In B.T. Williams and A.A. Zenger (Eds.), New media literacies and participatory popular culture across borders, 44-60. Routledge: New York.

1 Comment

September 22, 2013 · 9:27 am

Each generation builds their own pop culture

This week I was reminded just how ephemeral and time specific our own popular culture references are. I was chatting with a 17 year old who had recently seen an episode of Leave it to Beaver – a wholesome family entertainment I believe from the 1950s. Her assessment was “Really Creepy”. Having not seen but heard of this program I understood her point about the overly idealised and terrifyingly neat lives portrayed, I still found the “creepy” assessment amusing from an afficionardo of as much stylised supernatural violence as she can get her hands on. It occurred to me however that catchphrases and references which to my contemporaries are simply part of our store of life understandings, are meaningless and confusing to others. While a drawled “Wrapped in Plastic” will forever evoke images of red curtains, the log lady and a woman obsessed with drape runners, to those of us of a certain age – to our children it just means a way to keep their sandwiches fresh.

1 Comment

September 7, 2013 · 6:51 am